We are going to be wrapping up our series called Killing Stuff today. We have been going through some of the major themes of the Old Testament. Today, in our message called, Killing Self, I want, to begin with, a pretty familiar passage in the New Testament, in the teaching of Jesus. And then I want to show you how that teaching is part of the Old Testament as well.
The passage comes from the Gospel of Luke where Luke records Jesus’s words:
And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? (Luke 9:23–25, ESV)
Jesus taught that a true disciple was one who denied the interests of the self. The principle is that you can’t serve God when you’re living for yourself. So he says to take up your cross daily—that’s an important keyword. The metaphor is pretty easy here. Be dying to yourself, your wants, your, desires, daily so that you will be able to live for God.
And then Jesus gives an apologetic in this passage. He says, “Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” According to Jesus, living for the self is never ultimately fulfilling. It may be nice for a time, but if you think your efforts in life are going to give you a satisfactory standing before God, Jesus says you’re wrong. When you try to live on your own merits, you inherit death. But, when you die to yourself and live for God, then you gain life.
And finally, Jesus gives a little application. He says, ‘What good is it?!’ You work hard and make lots of money in life and get lots of comforts in life and maybe you’re a good upstanding, and a very moral person and others look up to you. And one day you die you pass from this world, and lots of people show up for your funeral because you were such a great and influential person.
What good is it if you live a life like that and yet don’t earn God’s favor and spend eternity separated from God and His goodness? What does it profit you if you gain the whole world and still forfeit yourself?
Lot’s of people would argue that those are the kinds of individuals God should fill his Kingdom with—all those hard working, good, upstanding citizens. God should fill his Kingdom with those people. But, Jesus taught, you can’t serve God when you’re living for yourself.
The Christian life—to live as a disciple of Jesus—is to die to yourself continually and live for God. That’s the pattern Jesus taught. And that’s the pattern of the Old Testament. We see it very clearly in the life of King David, the second King of Israel. And there are tons of places in the story we could go, but I want to go to a story that isn’t dealt with real often. It shows up in 1 Chronicles 20-21.
In the first part of the story, we see that David is…
Zealous for God
So, if you remember, when Israel came into the Promised Land under Joshua, they didn’t get all the land. Their sinfulness—really their selfishness—got in the way and they didn’t get everything God told them to get, not even close. So, David, when he became King, he picked up where Joshua left off, and he started taking parts of the Promised Land that were still inhabited by corrupt nations.
So, spring came, and that’s war season apparently so David got his troops together. And he had a large army and a trusted friend who commanded his armies named Joab. And David sent Joab and the armies to the country of the Ammonites. This was a holy war, and David was doing exactly what God had commanded them to do, to take the Promised Land.
And when you’re doing God’s work, God shows up. So, they completely ravaged the country of the Ammonites.
And then, as soon as they get done taking the land of the Ammonites, war breaks out with the Philistines. And this is a fascinating battle. Look what happened:
And after this, there arose war with the Philistines at Gezer. Then Sibbecai the Hushathite struck down Sippai, who was one of the descendants of the giants, and the Philistines were subdued. And there was again war with the Philistines, and Elhanan the son of Jair struck down Lahmi the brother of Goliath the Gittite, the shaft of whose spear was like a weaver’s beam.
And there was again war at Gath, where there was a man of great stature, who had six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot, twenty-four in number, and he also was descended from the giants. And when he taunted Israel, Jonathan the son of Shimea, David’s brother, struck him down. These were descended from the giants in Gath, and they fell by the hand of David and by the hand of his servants. (1 Chronicles 20:4–8, ESV)
Remember this is a holy war. And whenever giants show up, you know you are dealing with a particular evil. If you remember the story of David and Goliath, it’s almost like David is finishing unfinished business here, because they finally destroyed the rest of the giants—the Rephaim—that live among the Philistines.
The people of God were fighting a spiritual battle to carry out God’s purposes, and in everything they did, they had great success. And I don’t want you to miss this. They succeeded because God was with them. They were fighting on God’s side.
And basically, every Christian would say they live for God, right?
Who would say that they are a Christian, but they don’t worry about living for God?
No one would. And it’s easy when you’re ‘in the moment.’ It’s easy on like day three of Vacation Bible School to be eager and upbeat. You’re having lots of fun and kids are learning about the Bible, and it’s great. It’s easy to be zealous then.
And thinking about the passage in Luke, do you know who Jesus was talking to?
Remember, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”
He was talking to disciples. He was talking to people who were sacrificing jobs and money and time with their families because they believed there is something important they needed to learn from Jesus. And they were following him around and doing great works in his name. They were eager to live for God.
But then Jesus turned to them and said, ‘If you want to be my disciples…’
And he says that because it’s not always going to be easy. Jesus knew that life was going to get very hard for the disciples.
And when we do VBS, the week is always great. But, then we go back to the daily ministry, and some of that is very hard.
Jesus wanted to make sure that his disciples didn’t lose their zeal when times got rough. He knew that it’s easier to serve God when it’s exciting and he didn’t want them to lose heart when it got hard.
That’s why I say; you can’t serve God when you’re living for yourself. Because, when you are living for yourself your commitment to God is going to ebb and flow with how well you are personally fulfilled. When times are good, you will want to serve and give. But, when times are hard you don’t even want to go to church, and you begin to doubt your faith. When you live for yourself, you might serve God sometimes, but Because, when you are living for yourself your commitment to God is going to ebb and flow with how well you are personally fulfilled.
And that’s what happened to David. He learned the hard way that you don’t experience the blessings of God when you’re…
Full of yourself
So, I need you to notice the context of the story. I reminded you what we had seen all throughout the Old Testament, that when the giants show up, the forces of evil are very present. So, David’s armies defeat the giants and,
Then Satan stood against Israel and incited David to number Israel. (1 Chronicles 21:1, ESV)
I told you this is a spiritual war. David made a move against the forces of evil—the giants—and Satan attacks back. But, Satan knew he couldn’t defeat David’s armies, so he attacks David’s heart instead.
Well, what does he do?
It’s exactly what it sounds like. David succumbed to the temptation of Satan, and he decided to count his armies. He told Joab to go and take a census of the armies.
That doesn’t seem like such a big deal, but we get a sense that maybe God told David not to do that because Joab argues back against the King. He knew what David was thinking. David was trying to figure out if he had enough forces to make his next move. And Joab was the man of faith, not David. Joab said to the King,
“May the Lord add to his people a hundred times as many as they are! Are they not, my lord the king, all of them my lord’s servants? Why then should my lord require this? Why should it be a cause of guilt for Israel?” (1 Chronicles 21:3, ESV)
Joab knew that it didn’t matter how many troops they had if God was on their side.
And worse, Joab was afraid that David’s lack of faith in God would bring guilt on the people of Israel. Joab knew that you couldn’t serve God when you’re living for yourself and David began living for himself.
Joab’s plea to David was the same plea Jesus had for his disciples. Joab was telling David, ‘take up your cross,’ die to your wants, die to your desires, die to your belief that you are self-sufficient, die to the idea that you can do this on your own. Take up your cross, David, be ready to die for God’s purposes if that’s what he calls you to. But, don’t count your armies. Trust in God.
But the king’s word prevailed against Joab. So Joab departed and went throughout all Israel and came back to Jerusalem. And Joab gave the sum of the numbering of the people to David. In all Israel there were 1,100,000 men who drew the sword, and in Judah 470,000 who drew the sword. (1 Chronicles 21:4–5, ESV)
David chose to count his armies. He wouldn’t just trust God.
I wonder if you’ve ever been there. Have you ever felt that tension, where you knew God was calling you to something, but there was something practical in you telling you not to do it?
Look at this quote from an article from 2014 on charitable giving:
As the recession lifted, poor and middle-class Americans dug deeper into their wallets to give to charity, even though they were earning less. At the same time, according to a new Chronicle analysis of tax data, wealthy Americans earned more, but the portion of the income they gave to charity declined. (As Wealthy Give Smaller Share of Income to Charity, Middle Class Digs Deeper, philanthropy.com)
Studies show that the households who give the least percentage of money to charity earn between $100k and $200k annually. And the less people earn, the more they give.
Does that fit the paradigm?
David had great success, and his faith suffered. And that’s what happens to must people in the US. When life is hard, and you’re living paycheck to paycheck, you have no choice but to rely on God. It seems counterintuitive, but people who know they don’t have enough money to thrive are the most willing to give—and not just small percentages, but they give off the top, before even paying bills a lot of the time. Because they have to rely on God to provide month to month whether they give or not. So, they already have greater faith.
But, when you are totally self-sufficient, and you have good healthcare and a savings account and a retirement fund, it’s different. Like David, you analyze your assets before you decide to give instead of giving by faith.
And I don’t mean to make this about money. I remember vividly standing in the stairwell on the landing between the 4th and 5th floors of our office building having a discussion about the future with my boss. I told him I was going to resign to go to Bible school and he offered me a fast track into management if I stayed.
That was over ten years ago now. I can’t even imagine how much wealth and comfort I gave up because of that decision. But, I have no regrets, because you can’t serve God when you’re living for yourself. And my goal was not to have comforts in life; it was to have treasure in heaven. I was tempted to stay, but I also trusted God more than I trusted myself.
And I need to show you what happened to David because he chose not to trust God. This story makes me thankful for the choices I’ve made to trust God.
But God was displeased with this thing, and he struck Israel. And David said to God, “I have sinned greatly in that I have done this thing. But now, please take away the iniquity of your servant, for I have acted very foolishly.” And the Lord spoke to Gad, David’s seer, saying, “Go and say to David, ‘Thus says the Lord, Three things I offer you; choose one of them, that I may do it to you.’ ”
So Gad came to David and said to him, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Choose what you will: either three years of famine, or three months of devastation by your foes while the sword of your enemies overtakes you, or else three days of the sword of the Lord, pestilence on the land, with the angel of the Lord destroying throughout all the territory of Israel.’ Now decide what answer I shall return to him who sent me.”
Then David said to Gad, “I am in great distress. Let me fall into the hand of the Lord, for his mercy is very great, but do not let me fall into the hand of man.” So the Lord sent a pestilence on Israel, and 70,000 men of Israel fell. (1 Chronicles 21:7–14, ESV)
David’s lack of trust had grave consequences. But, I also want you to see what David learned. David said, “Let me fall into the hand of the Lord, for his mercy is very great.” David found out that you couldn’t serve God when you’re living for yourself. And his only hope of escape from his foolish decision was God’s mercy.
And that’s why I think Jesus used the word ‘daily’ when he said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”
Because, it’s our habit, our pattern in the flesh, our sinful nature at work in us. We always take our eyes off of God. We always begin to live for the self. We always start to think that we can make it on our own. If I just get that raise…when I file my taxes…when the car is finally paid off…I’ll be OK. Our de facto mindset is to live for the self. So Jesus says we need to decide who we are going to live for every day, lest we stray from God to our demise.
Christians aren’t people who go through life accomplishing all sorts of great things. We’re not!
Christians are people who know that apart from God they cannot accomplish anything with eternal value. Christians are people who daily die to themselves and commit to serving God however and wherever he calls, no matter what the cost.
Christians are people who know they cannot serve God when they are living for themselves.
And David got there. He learned from this story. He learned the art of…
So, to set the stage for the final act of the story, there wasn’t a city of Jerusalem yet. There was no city walls or city gate. There was no palace of the King. And most importantly there was no temple.
But, there was a man named Ornan who had property at the top of the hill in Jerusalem, the hill that would come to be known as the Temple Mount.
And since David had sinned against God, he needed to go and offer sacrifices to God for purification before God would release the Israelites from the plague of pestilence that He sent upon them for David’s selfishness. So, God told David to go to Ornan’s house and build an altar there to offer sacrifices. So he went and,
David said to Ornan, “Give me the site of the threshing floor that I may build on it an altar to the Lord—give it to me at its full price—that the plague may be averted from the people.” (1 Chronicles 21:22, ESV)
David asked for the land and said he would pay full price for it, but Ornan was intimidated by the King, and he refused to give David a price. He said, ‘Well you can pay whatever you want.’ And he tried to provide the oxen for the sacrifice and the wood and grain and all that.
But King David said to Ornan, “No, but I will buy them for the full price. I will not take for the Lord what is yours, nor offer burnt offerings that cost me nothing.” So David paid Ornan 600 shekels of gold by weight for the site.
And David built there an altar to the Lord and presented burnt offerings and peace offerings and called on the Lord, and the Lord answered him with fire from heaven upon the altar of burnt offering. Then the LORD commanded the angel, and he put his sword back into its sheath. (1 Chronicles 21:24–27, ESV)
David’s trust in God was restored. He didn’t take advantage or Ornan’s generosity because he knew that God called him there. He was committed to buying the land no matter what the cost because God is the God who provides.
Can you even imagine how selfish that would have been for David to take the land and the oxen and all that for free?
It’s like the ultimate re-gift.
But, David didn’t do that. David died to himself, his purposes, his desires because as a follower of the one true God he knew there was no profit in living for himself. He was aware that even if he could gain the whole world, it wasn’t worth it to lose his soul. At the end of the day, David knew that God’s purposes were greater than his own, more fulfilling than his own, and provided greater riches in eternity.
And that’s what I want for you. I want you to know that you can’t serve God when you are serving yourself. I want you to know that God’s purposes are greater than your own, more fulfilling than your own and that living for God provides far greater riches in God’s Kingdom than you could ever imagine having on the earth.